My ladies have a couple of nice, deep holes under a fallen branch that they’ve scratched, kicked and dug into smooth-sided depressions just the right size for a couple of hens. As soon as the ground has thawed and dried in the spring, the ladies are rolling and stretching, flinging dirt up onto their backs, spreading their wings and scooting sideways to sift the fine dust in between each feather shaft, rubbing their necks along the sides of the hole, hopping out to shake thoroughly—and then back in to perform the same routine over again.
Dust bathing is a necessary activity that helps chickens, and other feathered fowl, remove dead skin, external parasites, and loose feathers. I’ve seen mourning doves and sparrows rolling in the summer dust of my driveway, so I know dust bathing isn’t just for chickens! It’s a healing, healthy activity that I’ve even watched 3-day-old chicks perform.
Last summer, I read Harvey Ussery’s book, “The Small-Scale Poultry Flock”, and learned that dust bathing apparently isn’t just for health reasons; it’s also a sort of “chicken ritual”. Ussery suggests building a dust box for chickens to bathe in when the weather is too wet or cold for outside access. Directions for making Ussery’s plywood dust box are in Appendix B in his book.
Rather than build a wooden box, I thought I could use a low, plastic tub for an indoor bathing facility for the hens. Our local dollar store has an assortment of tubs, with covers, so I bought one—dimensions are 16” x 22”. With a 6” depth, I thought it would be perfect.
I added a small scoop of food grade diatomaceous earth (DE) for parasitic control, and part of a bag of play sand (the sort for children’s sand boxes). The chickens were very interested. Two of them stepped into the box, a third stepped on the side of the box, the whole thing tipped over and the hens reacted just as any ladies would if their pool tipped over. They screamed and squawked and flapped their wings and ran as far away as possible.
Hmmm…maybe a wooden box is the answer after all! After a couple more false starts, my husband (the carpenter/wood hoarder) and I (the director/planner) made a wood frame to hold the plastic tub.
We used untreated 2 x 6’s left from another project, and nailed them to make a finished frame 19” x 27.5”. We “ripped” one 2x6 in half to make the top edge and lip of the frame.
The tub fits snugly into the frame, yet lifts out for cleaning. The lid for the tub keeps the interior dry and clean when not in use (and on sunny days when the hens can bathe outside).
The lip on two sides of the frame gives the ladies a place to stand without tipping the whole thing over, and yet the frame (minus the filled tub) is light enough to move out for scrubbing or during coop cleaning sessions. The tub easily holds a 50-pound bag of play sand and three large hens.
On sunny winter days, when the temperatures inside the chicken coop hover around the freezing mark, I’ve often surprised a hen doing the breaststroke in the inside dust bath. They are curious ladies, and when we add a new bag of sand, or I stir up the old sand and add a sprinkle of DC, they crowd around and seem to want to be first to test the “waters”.
It’s a fairly shallow pool, and so after a few weeks, much of the sand has been scattered, kicked out onto the floor of the coop, or sifted into feathers and shaken off. If I had more than a couple dozen chickens, I would make the dust box bigger—to hold a deeper tub. For now, though, I like that it fits into a corner of the coop, and I don’t mind replacing the sand. It gives me peace of mind knowing they are able to perform their chicken rituals and ablutions during the winter months and on rainy days.
I can tell that the girls enjoy their indoor pool, and I enjoy watching them, too!